Friday, January 29, 2016

Night Moves (1975) - The Deconstructed Detective

Night Moves geographically spans from the classic haunts of Hammett, Chandler, and Ross Mcdonald, i.e., California, LA, Hollywood, to the aqua and coral pastels of John D. MacDonald's South Florida and it's Gulf Coast Keys. There is also a short stopover to a New Mexico film location.

Directed by Arthur Penn. Written by Alan Sharp, with cinematography by Bruce Surtees. The film stars Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark, Edward Binns, Harris Yulin, Kenneth Mars, Janet Ward, Anthony Costello, John Crawford, and it also has some outstanding early career appearances by James Woods and Melanie Griffith.

The story reboots the classic hardboiled detective story up to the contemporary 1970's.  Harry Moseby (Hackman) runs Moseby Confidential a one man detective agency, a business that seems to putter along on vapors. He drives a 1967 Ford Mustang. Instead of being the usual ex WWI, WWII, Korean or Vietnam Vet, Moseby is an ex Oakland Raider football player, who has apparently invested some of his NFL contract doe into a PI dream.

Moseby is a Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe "knight of the streets" wannabe but rather than hard boiled, Harry is soft boiled at best, he is not tough or mean, he's more easygoing and disarming,  Harry is also a bit tarnished and maybe bit afraid. He is the hero, competent and dedicated, but even as his personal world dissolves around him he is still as Chandler said "a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world."

Harry Moseby (Hackman) in his office

Our tale begins when Harry get's a case referred to him by one of his wife's Ellen's (Susan Clark)
clients Nick (Kenneth Mars), a collector of Mayan antiquities. The job is to find and return the wayward daughter of a crumbling Hollywood C-list star, Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward). Iverson is a multiple marriage booze hound, getting a bit thick in the middle and living high on the hog off alimony checks in a hillside house above LA. She's specialized in banging movie stuntmen. She'll remind you of a caricature of a past the end of career Elizabeth Taylor. She comes on to Harry like a bitch in heat every time he visits her to get the details of or report his findings on her daughter Delilah "Delly" (Melanie Griffith). Arlene wants her back because Delly has a sizeable trust fund.

Iverson (Ward) Moseby (Hackman) with a smoggy LA backdrop
Harry from information he got from Arlene, confronts Delly's last boyfriend Quentin (James Woods) a movie crew mechanic who informs Harry that Delly left him in New Mexico for a stuntman pilot name of Marv (Anthony Costello).

Harry and Quentin (James Woods)

The case is the real deal to Harry, it pays more, it's better than routine divorce cases, and better than working for a large agencies which, he remarks to Ellen, are no better than data collection services. While driving back through Burbank, and feeling good about himself, Harry passes the Magnolia Theatre where his wife and her gay business associate Charles (Ben Archibek) are exiting a film. Harry makes a U-ie parks and is about to call out to Ellen when he witnesses her leave the company of Charles to take up with another man Marty (Harris Yulin). Marty walks with the aid of a cane and he escorts Ellen into a Mercedes. They drive away. Harry jumps back in the Mustang and tails them to Malibu. Seeing Ellen have an affair is like getting kicked in the guts. Harry stakes out Marty's house and confronts him about the affair.

Harry spots Ellen and Marty

Marty and Ellen drive away

Harry tailing Marty

Leaving his personal life in tatters Harry copes by diving fully into the missing daughter case. He flies to New Mexico where he meets Delly's father stunt coordinator Joey Ziegler (Edward Binns). While at a bar with Joey, he's introduced to sleazy stuntman Marv (Anthony Costello). When Joey leaves the table momentarily Harry asks Marv about Delly. Marv says she headed for Florida to stay with her step dad Tom Iverson (John Crawford) then he offers his observation of the certain perspective a man gets when he sleeps with both the daughter (Delly) and the mother (Arlene). He snickers.

Harry and  Joey Ziegler (Edward Binns) 

Marv (Anthony Costello)

Harry heads to the Florida Gulf Coast to track down Delly at her step dad's grungy off the beaten track guiding, fishing, retail business MidKay Supermarket and The Gulf Shore Cabins. There he meets free-spirited Paula (Jennifer Warren) a slinky, blonde, Southern beach trash, beauty who has among other endeavors has bar tended, waitressed, stripped, etc., etc. She takes him to meet Delly. Delly is introduced to us in homage to much like Brigitte Bardot was iconically introduced in Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman, naked behind a clothesline.

MidKay Supermarket

Harry showing credentials to Paula

Paula (Jennifer Warren)

Delly (Melanie Griffith)

Delly is a 16-year-old, very in your face, out of control, round heels nymphomaniac, who gives the impression that she will screw anything with a dick. She constantly teases any man within her reach ready to strip off her clothes at the drop of a hat. As soon as Harry shows up he becomes the object of her constant attention.

Delly's step dad Tom Iverson (John Crawford) flies in on a seaplane soon after Harry arrives. When Harry tells him he's there to collect Delly and bring her back to her mother, Tom confides to Harry that she's a handful, and referring to her open sexuality states "there ought to be a law" to which Harry replies "there is."

Tom's Seaplane

Tom Iverson (John Crawford)

Paula, Delly, and Harry decide to take the glass bottomed boat out for a recreational night dive on the reef. They turn the underwater lights on. Delly strips and jumps in while Paula and Harry watch. While Delly is moving about she discovers the wreck of a small seaplane. When she gets close to the cockpit she sees the body of a deadman, fish are feeding on his head eating his eye sockets, she panics bursting upwards to the surface and screams.

Glass Bottomed Boat


No bottoms through the glass bottom

Seeing the dead man so disturbs Delly that she's ready to go back to California with Harry. Once back at Arlene's, Delly has a dysfunctional brouhaha with her mother, Quentin, and her mother's new lover in front of Harry as he is trying to leave after collecting his check.

Harry has misgivings, wondering if he did the right thing, a few day later his apprehensions prove out when Delly is killed in an accident on a movie set. After meeting with Joey Ziegler and seeing rushes of the crash Harry suspects Quentin was involved. Harry follows Quentin to Florida where in classic noir fashion everything unravels, and in not the way you expect.

In the old whodunnits, the detective would logically follow the clues and solve the case. In the hard boiled tales of Hammett and Chandler the detective takes the case shakes things up and sees what falls out. When Harry goes back to Florida he reaches the tipping point into full blown Noirsville.

The jazzy soundtrack is by Michael Small, screencaps are from the Warners DVD, 8/10.  If the cinematography had a bit more style using Noir stylistics it would probably be higher, as is it doesn't quite match up to its potential vis a vis the story.